Putting Your Foot in the Mouth:
Occupational Disease of Politicians — Part II
I promised to let you savor the statements of Foot in the Mouth award winners. Here’s an enjoyable array:
1991 - Dan Quayle
Although the Foot in Mouth award was not introduced until 1993, the Vice President of the United States, Dan Quayle received a special mention during the 1991 awards for his tent metaphor: “We offer the party as a big tent.” How we do that [recognize the big tent philosophy] with the platform, the preamble to the platform or whatnot, that remains to be seen. But that message will have to be articulated with great clarity.
1993 - Ted Dexter
Dexter, a senior figure in the Marylebone Cricket Club, won the inaugural award for trying to explain a loss by the England cricket team by saying: “Maybe we are in the wrong sign. Maybe Venus is in the wrong juxtaposition with something else. I don’t know.”
1994 - Gordon Brown
As the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown gave a speech on "New Economics" full of baffling jargon such as; “the growth of post neo-classical endogenous growth theory” and “debate over the meaning and implications of competitiveness at the level of individuals, the firm or the nation and the role of government in fashioning modern industrial policies which focus on nurturing competitiveness.”
1997 - Nick Underwood
A member of the Teletubbies marketing department, Underwood won the award for his explanation that; “in life, there are all colours and the Teletubbies are a reflection of that. There are no nationalities in the Teletubbies – they are techno-babies, but they are supposed to reflect life in that sense.”
1998 - Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan, a Welsh Labour politician confused interviewer Jeremy Paxman when asked if he would like to be leader of the Welsh Assembly, by responding: “Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?”
1999 - Glenn Hoddle
The England football manager won the award for his response to a question about his earlier comments that disabled people were born that way because they were being punished for sins in former lives: “I do not believe that. At this moment in time, if that changes in years to come I don’t know, but what happens here today and changes as we go along that is part of life’s learning and part of your inner beliefs. But at this moment in time I did not say them things and at the end of the day I want to put that on record because it has hurt people.”
2000 - Alicia Silverstone
The American actress, star of Clueless, was awarded for her comment: “I think that Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it’s true lightness.”
2001 - Tracey Emin
Artist Tracey Emin won the award for her comment: “When it comes to words I have a uniqueness that I find almost impossible in terms of art – and it’s my words that actually make my art quite unique.”
2002 - Richard Gere
The American actor was presented with the award for his philosophical comment: “I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake, I’d think ’No, actually I am a giraffe.”
2003 - Donald Rumsfeld
For his overuse of the word “know” during a press briefing given as United States Secretary of Defense: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
2004 - Boris Johnson
During the BBC’s light-hearted news quiz show Have I Got News for You, Conservative politician Johnson commented, “I could not fail to disagree with you less.”
2005 - Rhodri Morgan
Welsh politician Rhodri Morgan’s second award was given for a quote made during a debate on policing; “The only thing which isn’t up for grabs is no change and I think it’s fair to say, it’s all to play for, except for no change.”
2006 - Naomi Campbell
The English supermodel picked up the award for saying, “I love England, especially the food. There’s nothing I like more than a lovely bowl of pasta.”
2007 - Steve McClaren
For describing footballer Wayne Rooney: “He is inexperienced, but he’s experienced in terms of what he’s been through”, when talking to BBC Radio 5 Live in his role as England manager.
2008 - George W. Bush
Bush’s award was made during his final year in office as President of the United States. Entitled a “Lifetime Achievement Award”, it was given for his “services to gobbledygook”. His gaffes were described as covering a large number of topics, and included comments such as “I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe – I believe what I believe is right”, and, “I hope you leave here and walk out and say, ‘what did he say?’”
2009 - Peter Mandelson
Awarded for the Labour politician’s remark on the investigation into the United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal; “Perhaps we need not more people looking round more corners but the same people looking round more corners more thoroughly to avoid the small things detracting from the big things the Prime Minister is getting right.”
2010 - Jamie Redknapp
Repeated misuse of the word “literally” made during his career as a sports commentator, in such quotes as: “These balls now – they literally explode off your feet.”
2011 - Silvio Berlusconi
The controversial former Italian Prime Minister received the award for comments such as “I am pretty often faithful”, when talking about fidelity in 2006, and describing Barack Obama in 2008 as being “Handsome, young and also suntanned”.
2012 - Mitt Romney
U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney received the award for making gaffes on the domestic front: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me”; on the international stage, for example, regarding the London Olympics: “There are a few things that were disconcerting. The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials – that obviously is not something which is encouraging”; and generally incomprehensible comments such as “I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.”
2013 - Godfrey Bloom
United Kingdom Independence Party MEP Godfrey Bloom, who sits in the body as an Independent, received the award after making a series of controversial statements in 2013, including describing countries that receive foreign aid from the UK as “Bongo Bongo Land”, saying that women don’t “clean behind the fridge enough”, jokingly referring to female members of an audience as “sluts” and assaulting one journalist and threatening another. A spokesman called him “an overwhelming choice” who “could easily have won this award on at least two other occasions... [he’s] a wince-inducing gaffe machine and we could fill a page or two with his ill-advised quotes from 2013 alone.”
Education and Politics
Reading the above specimens of foot in the mouth, you may wonder should it be made compulsory that our politicians are educated enough to know what to say and, more importantly, how, and also when. And most importantly, when to keep their mouths shut and for how long. There’s famous Sanskrit proverb that even a fool is taken to be a wise man till he opens his mouth.
For every profession — whether it is architecture or engineering - you require some formal training and technical knowledge germane to its working. What about politics? Is it a profession reserved for those who could not fit in any other walk of life? Or as the old saying has it, politics is the last resort of discards. (Actually, the real term used is rather too unflattering for the profession and its practitioners. So, even I - rather indiscreet in choice of words — am avoiding it.)
One school of thought firmly believes politicians should be required to have educational qualifications. This issue was raised in our Constituent Assembly when the Constitution was being drafted. And of all the people by the man who had presided over its proceedings. (I’m referring to the valedictory address of Dr. Rajendra Prasad.) No educational qualification was stipulated for our MP’s because at that time no one could imagine that all the rouges and rascals will make a desperate bid to clamber on the country’s political band wagon.
Come to think of it, we expect our leaders to be educated enough to know what they’re expected to do for us and how. Who wants a leader that has not taken the time to educate himself? A politician should not be only street smart like Kakkaji in Manohar Shyam Joshi’s delightful Indian version of Yes, Minister, called Kakkaji Kahin. He should know how the government works and have some knowledge of things around, and their impact on the life of common man.
Politician, according to this persuasion, should be equipped with higher education because many leadership attributes are gained primarily through education. The best example would be learning the art of decision-making by weighing the pros and cons of available options. Leaders with no education cannot always cope up with the avalanche of changes in our times. And that is a hindrance in any county’s development.
Example of British PM’s
Take the case of England which nurtured over centuries the parliamentary institutions that we chose as our model while framing our Constitution. Of the 55 Prime Ministers to date, 41 studied at Oxbridge: 14 attended Cambridge (including 6 at Trinity), and 27 attended Oxford (including 14 at Christ Church). Only 11 Prime Ministers did not go to university, and only three, namely, Earl Russell, Neville Chamberlain, and Gordon Brown, went to other universities (Edinburgh, Birmingham and Edinburgh respectively), by not following the Oxbridge route.
In our case we had had till now 13 Prime Minister, including the last who neither speaks nor listens to any outcry and yet hasn’t, medically, been declared deaf and dumb.
A word or two about their formal education. (Informal education they all have has aplenty.) The first of our Prime Ministers was educated at Harrow and Cambridge in unalloyed British tradition. He was followed by Lal Bahadur who had his education in the typical traditional Gurukul style. Indira Gandhi succeeded him. She didn’t formally pass any school final – in India or abroad. She was no believer in formal education. Even then she spent a month at Oxford in deference to her father’s wishes. Her darling son, Rajiv, went to Cambridge but just to have good time. He never sat for any examination. He also went to Imperial College for a year only to while his time away. But he inherited Prime Ministership thanks to our hereditary system.
The rest of the lot — Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Narasimha Rao, Atal Biahri Vajpayee, Deve Gowda and I K Gigral were all formally educated but not like the present incumbent Manmohan Singh who, despite of his higher learning, has almost transformed the office of Prime Ministership to a puppetry school.
Education is not necessary!
There is also a school of thinking that maintains that it is not at all necessary that a well-educated person is also a good leader and decision maker. It is, therefore, not necessary to have an educational qualification to become a successful politician. (The best example is Indira Gandhi.) It doesn’t matter that person has any degree or not: the only thing which matters is the work done for the public. Look at how the so-called educated in our society are involved in the veritable torrent of scams.
There have been many a great thinker of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, who have done incredible things without ever having finished college. Examples of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg spring to mind. But perhaps the most influential technological mind of the past century has been Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the first successful personal computers, and over the years helped introduce numerous revolutionary products such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. And Jobs did this after attending college for only six months.
In American history, few people have embodied the notion of the self-made man more than Henry Ford — the man who is best-remembered for almost single-handedly creating the US automobile industry. Ford had a limited formal education, having been born on a farm outside of Detroit, where he worked with a father who believed his son would someday take to running the farm himself.
One of the most famous names in history, William Shakespeare produced some of the best-loved works the world has ever known, from Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth. But not much is known about Shakespeare’s early life; in fact, there are not even any records that suggest he ever received much by way of a formal education. Scholars have suggested that he may have attended the King’s New School, but they also believe — based on some of his writings — that he did not attend school past the age of thirteen. It’s pretty astonishing that a man credited with inventing more than 1700 words was, by all accounts, a middle school drop out.
Education therefore is by no means a necessary precondition for a successful career and to claim immunity from the disease of opening your mouth to put your foot in it.
Remember your Bible: “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”
In response to landmark Public Interest Litigation, the Supreme Court in 2003 ruled that any person contesting elections must submit, at the time of his nomination, a judicial affidavit, in which he must detail his financial assets and liabilities, educational qualifications and pending criminal cases, if any against him. Despite the fact that such disclosures have their shortcomings; the data does give a reasonable snapshot of lawmakers’ biographical profiles. Let’s take the just-dissolved 15th Lok Sabha. It was home to 162 MPs with pending criminal cases, including murder. As regards serious charges — such as murder, kidnapping and physical assault — approximately, 14% or 76 MPs were facing pending cases at the time of their election.
Would not it have been advisable if the Hon’be Court had included the listing of number of times the candidate in the past opened his mouth and advertently or inadvertently put his foot in it?